Premier League Career: Burnley (2014-2015, 2016-PRESENT)
Tom Heaton has been captain of Burnley since 2015 and his outstanding performances last season helped the Clarets’ avoid relegation from the Premier League for the first time at the third attempt of asking. Heaton has done very well to bounce back from early disappointment at Manchester United and several loan spells.
Born in Cheshire, Heaton actually began his career in Wales with Wrexham before signing as a trainee with Manchester United in July 2002. After impressing in the club’s reserve line-ups, he made his first-team bow with Swindon Town during a loan deal in the 2005-2006 campaign. He saved a penalty on his debut and played 20 times before being recalled.
A four-year period of insecurity followed with loan spells dotted around all over the place. 21 appearances with Cardiff City in 2008-2009 was his best period away from Old Trafford and with Edwin van der Sar still keeping goal, it became clear to Heaton that he was going to have to leave Manchester United permanently to further his career.
He returned to Cardiff City in July 2010 on a free transfer. His performances in his first full season back at Cardiff were enough to win him the club’s Young Player of the Year award. The 2011-2012 campaign was more frustrating as he played understudy to David Marshall. Nevertheless, Heaton demonstrated his importance in the team’s surprising run to the League Cup final. He saved two penalties in the semi-final shootout victory over Crystal Palace, before saving Steven Gerrard’s effort in the final itself. Sadly for Heaton, Cardiff lost the shootout to Liverpool FC and despite his heroics; he couldn’t usurp Marshall from league duty. Although offered a new contract, he decided to turn it down and leave the Welsh capital, joining Bristol City.
He was viewed as one of the club’s better players during a nightmarish 2012-2013 season which saw the club relegated from the Championship with the worst defensive record in the division. Again, he was offered a new deal and rejected it, leaving to stay in the second-tier with Burnley in May 2013. He was Sean Dyche’s first signing since taking over as Burnley boss and on his arrival; he said Heaton was a “good technician” with a “great pedigree.” Following the departures of Lee Grant and Brian Jensen that summer, Heaton immediately became the first-choice goalkeeper and having been an unfortunate part of the worst defence in the Championship a year before, he was part of the best Championship backline in 2013-2014. He kept 19 clean sheets and only conceded 37 times as Burnley returned to the Premier League for the first time in four years.
He played every single minute of the 2014-2015 campaign and was voted by his teammates as the Club’s Player of the Year. Despite some brilliant individual displays, Burnley’s lack of goalscoring pedigree meant they bravely went straight back down to the Championship. In June 2015, he signed a new three-year contract to stay at Turf Moor and with Jason Shackell departing for Derby County, Heaton was appointed as the new skipper. He kept 20 clean sheets; the second-best record in the Championship and was voted into the division’s PFA Team of the Year as Burnley went undefeated from Christmas 2015 onwards and earned promotion straight back to the Premier League.
He signed another new contract that summer and produced a series of wonderful displays, including a Man of the Match performance to deny Manchester United at Old Trafford. He made 11 saves in the goalless draw, including a flying mid-air stop to prevent Zlatan Ibrahimovic from scoring.
A dislocated shoulder sustained in an innocuous incident against Crystal Palace in September 2017 has meant Heaton has spent the majority of this season on the sidelines but he will regain his status between the posts when back to full fitness. He will also harbour hopes of making England’s World Cup squad in Russia in summer 2018.